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Monday, March 23, 2015

“Degas and the Dance”, by Jill DeVonyar & Richard Kendall

308 pages, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (HNA), ISBN-13: 978-1885444264

Degas and the Dance is the companion book to the exhibition of the same name that was seen at the Detroit Institute of Arts in December of 2002 and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in February of 2003 (this book has a special place in my heart ‘cause this was one of the first exhibitions I worked at the DIA as a volunteer). Among the supreme masterpieces of 19th Century art are Edgar Degas’s dramatic, incisive, and often brilliantly colored pictures of the ballet, yet despite his enormous popularity as the foremost artist of the dance – with more than half his vast body of paintings, pastels, drawings, and sculptures devoted to the on-and-off-stage activities of ballerinas – this was the first major exhibition and catalogue to illuminate the theme in its historical context. This authoritative book presents much new material about Degas as an artist and his relationship with the ballet of his day. Far more knowledgeable about the training and technique of dancers than has previously been realized, Degas is shown responding to numerous ballet productions at the Paris Opera, to the shadowy life of the wings, and to the daily routines of the classroom.

Degas and the Dance explores the French Impressionist’s lifelong fascination with the dancers and theater of his day. Adding substantially to previous studies, the authors propose new links between some of Degas’s characteristic themes – such as laundresses and horse racing – and the lithe women (and girls) he painted incessantly. Fresh light is also shed on Degas’ fascination with women in their public and private lives. Works by Degas in all media are considered: paintings, pastels, drawings, lithographs, etchings, monotypes, and sculpture, and juxtaposed with the French theater of the day. Comparable human predicaments and parallels in visual language are all part of this wide-ranging analysis, which deepens our understanding of one of the world’s greatest artists. A very good catalogue of what was a illuminating and ground-breaking exhibition on one of the world’s great Impressionists.

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